The EU’s “big three” states have offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives if it abandons its uranium enrichment program, which could produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atomic weapons. Tehran has temporarily frozen most of the program but has refused to abandon it.
Iran has, of course, continued the heavy-water reactor program at Arak in the ensuing years, with the HWPP continuing to produce heavy water. The reactor is to be brought online in 2014, according to Iran’s projection; a circumstance the U.S. officially finds “deeply troubling.”
(Also worth noting about Arak is that, like many of the components of Iran’s nuclear program, it was brought to public attention by an Iranian opposition group; in this case, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which published its information about the site in 2002. NCRI provided extensive detail on activities at the site in 2002; Iran, following the usual pattern, later notified IAEA of her intention to construct the reactor there, in May 2003.)
The yellowcake break
Rouhani alludes next to the production of yellowcake:
- First yellowcake produced – Winter of 2004
Although there have been multiple announcements of Iran’s first production of yellowcake, Rouhani is probably talking here about an initial quantity of 40-50 kilograms of it, produced in conjunction with inauguration of the Gchine uranium mine in July 2004. IAEA recorded this information in its Safeguards report of 15 November 2004. (See here and here for later reports of Iran’s first yellowcake production.)
As a reminder: when Iran became able to routinely produce her own yellowcake – which I assess to have occurred in the late-2008 to early-2009 timeframe – it became impossible for IAEA to track how much of a uranium stock Iran has. In the early 2000s, estimates could be bounded by the size of Iran’s original stock of yellowcake, which had been obtained from South Africa in the 1970s. Once a supply of indigenously produced yellowcake came on the scene, it was impossible to account for everything Iran might have: where all the new yellowcake was going (e.g., all of it to the official, acknowledged facility at Esfahan for conversion; all of that to Natanz for enrichment?), and how much enriched uranium hexafluoride (UF6) was coming out the other end.
Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran doesn’t owe IAEA an accounting for her raw uranium or yellowcake output. An instrument called the Additional Protocol to the NPT provides for member states to render such an accounting, but under the radical mullahs’ regime, Iran has never agreed to abide by the Additional Protocol. So she does not give IAEA this accounting, or allow IAEA controls to be exerted over her mining and milling activities.
When were the centrifuges in play?
It is with this in mind that we should approach the final piece of Rouhani’s timeline, concerning centrifuge cascades for uranium enrichment:
- “Centrifuges reached 3,000” – In 2005
- 1,700 centrifuges when Rouhani left the project – that is, in August 2005, when he stepped down as the chief negotiator for the nuclear program
Compare those numbers and dates with the understanding of IAEA during that period that Iran had suspended uranium enrichment. Here is what IAEA said about Iran’s centrifuge operations and enrichment activities in August 2005 (in the Safeguards report dated 2 September 2005):
53. Pursuant to the Board’s resolution on 29 November 2004 (GOV/2004/90), and previous resolutions, the Agency has continued its activities to verify and monitor all elements of Iran’s voluntary suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities.
54. Prior to 22 November 2004, the Agency had already established a baseline inventory of all UF6, essential centrifuge components, key raw materials and equipment, and the assembled centrifuge rotors at declared workshops said by Iran to have been involved in the manufacturing of centrifuge components, and had applied containment and surveillance measures to these items.
55. The Agency has continued its monthly monitoring activities at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) at Natanz, most recently from 30 to 31 August 2005, to ensure that the suspension of enrichment activities at PFEP is fully implemented. The surveillance records from the cascade hall have been reviewed to ensure that no additional centrifuge machines were installed. The seals on the equipment and nuclear material have been replaced and verified. The inventory of centrifuge components has been verified periodically, and the seals on the essential components replaced and verified. The cascade hall, and the 20 sets of centrifuge components stored at the feed and withdrawal station, continue to be under Agency surveillance, and all the previously declared UF6 feed material at PFEP, as well as product and tails, remain under Agency containment and surveillance.
At the same time, Alireza Jafarzadeh of NCRI had announced, in separate events on 9 and 18 August 2005, that Iran had produced 4,000 centrifuges which had not been declared to IAEA, and which were ready to be installed for operation. IAEA never did anything with this report.
About the Author: J.E. Dyer is a retired US Naval intelligence officer who served around the world, afloat and ashore, from 1983 to 2004.
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